August 28, 2016

Alison Goodman: "Singing the Dogstar Blues"

Title: Singing the Dogstar Blues [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None (but there's a companion short story/follow-up, The Real Thing, featured in the new edition of this novel, and first published in Firebirds Rising: An Anthology of Original Science Fiction and Fantasy. Also, here you can read the original story that later would morph and expand into STDB: One Last Zoom at the Buzz Bar. Note: don't let the original story scare you away from the book. They have very little in common...)
Author: Alison Goodman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 1998
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Full-fleshed, snarky, deliciously flawed, resourceful heroine. Adorable co-protagonist. Unconventional friendship. Lots of humour. Tackles themes of identity and gender/sexuality without making them "issues".
Cons: There's no use in racking your brain about the premise/reveal. It just is. Also, the smartest readers would probably solve one of the mysteries early on.
Will appeal to: Sci-fi fans 😉. Non sci-fi fans too, if they like humour, unusual pairings and coming-of-age stories.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Joss is a rebel, and a student of time travel at the prestigious Centre for Neo-Historical Studies. This year, for the first time, the Centre has an alien student: Mavkel, from the planet Choria. And Mavkel has chosen Joss, of all people, as his roommate and study partner. Then Mavkel gets sick. Joss quickly realizes that his will to live is draining away. The only way she can help Mavkel is by breaking the Centre's strictest rules - and that means going back in time to change history. (Amazon)

Review: Oh boy, another tough one. Because in this novel there are not one, but two mysteries - largely intertwined - and I shall make sure I don't spoil either of them for you. Shucks.


First off: you don't have any prejudices about reading a book that is nearly 20 years old - do you? Well, maybe you don't, but come regularly get distracted by new, shiny books, and/or new, shiny books that everyone and their hamster is reading - so what chances does a book written in 1998 have? its credit...I honestly don't think this particular book reads dated. It has a pretty strong timeless vibe to me. Which maybe should come as no surprise, since it deals with time travel ;D. Maybe a certain detail might have been written in a slightly different guise nowadays (more on this later), but all in all, STDB can easily be enjoyed by readers who weren't even born when it came out. Short book premise: Earth has developed time travel in the recent past, while Choria - Mavkel's planet - hasn't. For once, it's aliens who need human to teach them advanced technology. Cool, isn't it?


I decided to give this book a try for two reasons: 1) time travel (my number-two obsession after dead-not-dead characters); 2) a supposed male/female friendship story (and an unusual one at that) without romantic undertones. I use the word "supposed" because it turns out that Mav (like Joss calls him) is not a "male" alien. "He" comes from a planet where both sexes coexist in the same body (though Chorian physiology remains a mystery through the book - see: the humorous description of Mav's bathroom), and he's actually referred to as "it" until he becomes Joss' partner in the time travel academy. Only then the two of them agree on using the male pronoun, for the following reasons: 1) the obvious one: "it" is a pronoun used for objects; 2) Joss - when Mav asks her - admits being the kind of gal who would choose a guy as a sexual/romantic Mav basically argues that, since they are a pair now, she might as well have a male (though, I'll add, totally platonic) partner. The whole thing would probably have been played out a little differently now - maybe (just my guess) Mav would have been addressed as "they/them". I don't know if this detail is enough to turn genderfluid readers off this book, but the thing is, there's no judgement or disrespect for "alternate" sexualities in STDB. Quite the contrary. For example, Joss' mother is bisexual, and her ex long-time female partner, Louise, has a new family with a same-sex lover; also, Louise and her new partner have a son thanks to a sperm donor, who is actually involved in his kid's life. Goodman even took the time to weave a heartfelt memorial to all the AIDS victims into her book. [...]


Joss is a rebel, snarky girl, and a comp kid - that is, the daughter of an unknown sperm donor. Mav comes from a telepathic species whose members highly value bloodlines and are bonded in pairs since birth. Talk about an unlikely combination. But they seem to share a link - whose secret we will be revealed later in the book, and which will make for a funny but sweet moment. Their getting to know each other is often hilarious - think Castiel trying to process humanity via Dean Winchester :D. Then again, Mav has a problem - his birth partner died, and since their connection was so strong, he should have died too, but his Elders decided to save him for personal reasons. Except that Mav is getting sicker and sicker without his "twin", and it's up to Joss to help him, which requires, guess what? a trip to the past - only, not for the reason that you might imagine. Oh, and did I mention that Joss is a jazz aficionado and plays a mean harmonica, while Mav's people process sound in a way that they sort of sing when they talk - plus, they actually use music as a healing tool? Two sides of the same coin...


I know of a number of people who don't like sci-fi because they aren't fond of racking their brains about far-out or abstract concepts. The science in STDB is - to use yet another analogy - like a double-edged sword. On one hand (or, in this case, edge), the world building is great - nothing too fancy, just the right amount of state-of-the-art technology one can swallow without too many digestive problems ensuing...well, except for the organic hardware maybe ;D (brilliant!). On the other hand, there's a HUGE reversal of the grandfather paradox, which - incidentally - is the very foundation this book is built on. And if said paradox can't be solved, but only worked around, this one is...well, impossible. I think this is the only reason why I knocked half a star down - I LOVE this story, I wouldn't want it to be any different, but I would like to have a valid explanation for the biggest reveal. BUT! regardless, I'm in love with the setting, the voice, the characters and their relationship, and this book left me wanting MORE. I believe this was originally meant to be a series, but for some reason the project was aborted, and the only follow-up was a short story called The Real Thing, which has since been packed along with the novel in its new edition (see the Series section at the beginning of this review).


If I have to be nitpicky (and as usual, of course, I do), the friendship between Joss and a mafia bar owner should be frowned upon, though it's essential to the story. But let me say this at least...WHY have mafia guys ALWAYS to be of Italian descent? even in Australia. *slightly annoyed*
Also, like I said, there are two mysteries in STDB. At least one of them is quite easy to fathom. I think. I accidentally spoiled myself before I could try : /. (The other, though...).
OK, back to being excited about this book...


Last but not least, I meant to say that this is much more than your usual sci-fi story, even with an additional queer-friendly angle - and the humour of course. This is about identity too, the way we perceive ourselves, what we need in order to define who we are, the perks of being a lone wolf or the ultimate social bee. And this is about being different and not fitting in. And this is about overcoming our differences and forming a bond, which requires a small or less small sacrifice on our part, but will repay us in unexpected manners, and might even change our lives. So, even if the sci-fi angle doesn't appeal to you, maybe this one will. STDB is one of those hidden gems I've always wanted to convince people to dig out back when I started blogging. So come and dig this one out now - it will be worth the exercise...

For more Sci-Fi books click here.

From 1998 to 2013, cover galore! N°1 is the fittest, but of course out of date now (the fittest ALSO because Mav has claws! but they didn't include his double thumb...). N° 3 is a slightly alternate version of the one I used for my review (that's the hardcover, which I bought), and I love both "Joss" and the mix of DNA and music symbols on that one. N°4...??? does it convey anything, really?


  1. I'm not into sci-fi (especially time travel SORRY! lol) but I do like the sound of the character dynamics.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    1. I know LOL. But this one has so much more going for it than the sci-fi angle.


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